Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Andy Argyrakis
01/17/2005 | Illinois Entertainer | Album Review
When the temperature drops below zero, everyone seems to have sunk into a post holiday depression and even a city as incredible as Chicago becomes boring, virtually any remotely interesting concert is likely to sell out. Though all those variables certainly contributed to Bright Eyes' jam-packed Riviera appearance, chances are the engagement would've had little trouble moving tickets on its own. After all, the Conor Oberst-led operation has been applauded for nearly a decade, and especially since 2002's breakthrough (and fourth overall album) Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground. Add in two new simultaneously released endeavors (I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash In A Digital Urn) and the Bright Eyes show was unquestionably the place to be, complete with Oberst's genuine charm and noticeable shortcomings. Though Bright Eyes has recently readied two records, the electronically focused, fleshed-out production of Digital Ash was absent from the set list. Instead, the night was dedicated primarily to I'm Wide Awake, with a promise that the former would be fully supported on the road later this year. In either case, the bulk of attendees entered a bit uncertain as to what might be displayed, though they received nearly all of I'm Wide Awake, an effort steeped in folk sensibilities, confessional country snarls, and pedal steel pandemonium. At first, selections like the spoken word twang of "At The Bottom Of Everything" and the murky moodiness of "Old Soul Song" were met with apprehension and anticipation. But as further fresh tracks were unveiled (the Dylan-esque "Train Under Water" and the sobering "Poison Oak") nerves settled and acceptance started sinking in. The temperament then rotated between inspiration (the lovely hit single "Lua"), captivation (the chilling war discussion "Land Locked Blues"), and relaxation (the road trip tipped "Another Travelin' Song").
Despite most of the actual tracks coming off without a hitch, transitions between the aforementioned were filled with awkward silence and desperate stalling. Oberst, though incredibly conversational and engaging as a songwriter, is far less charismatic as a performer, taking way too much time to tune his guitar or get focused on the task at hand. The leader was even visibly shaken following a sea of screams from his faithful, flubbing up the words being sung at one point and sheepishly apologizing for the blunder.
But the converted didn't appear to mind, instead patiently waiting and desperately hoping for more recognizable recollections. They weren't plentiful, but Bright Eyes delivered in a handful of instances, recalling notables like "Padraic My Prince" (from 1998's Letting Off The Happiness) and "Make War" (from Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil). However, it was "When The President Talks To God" that truly stuck out from the pack, which first rose to fame during last fall's Vote For Change outing with R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen. No matter what one's political agenda, the superb craftsmanship and daring candor in assessing the country's current leader was undeniable and riveting.
After closing the night with the I'm Wide Awake finale "Road To Joy" (a tension building all out electric barreler) the crowd once again championed Oberst and his rotating cast as indie rock royalty. Granted, the hype has been overwhelming since the frontman's public spotlight debut at age 13 (he's now 24) yet that doesn't discount the genuine talent and promise displayed throughout the evening. Neither of the new records are free of fault, nor was every moment of the show, but at least Bright Eyes on the whole encompassed expressive intricacy and variety. That, with additional refinement, could potentially leave them among the lineage of America's most lauded troubadours.


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